SEMINOLE — The City Council has a collective message for elected officials now in session in Tallahassee: Butt out of local decision-making.
A delegation of council members and staff traveled to the state Capitol recently to meet with legislators over their opposition to a number of looming bills. On April 11, that local war party reported back at the latest council meeting, and the gist of it was that attacks on “home rule” policymaking may be tough to defeat — but it might be possible to turn back some of the worst incursions.
Home rule is the once-sacrosanct notion that local officials know best how to address their municipalities’ needs. But during the past decade there has been an escalating campaign, occasionally at the sitting governor’s behest, to rein in local decision-making with laws prohibiting certain sorts of municipal ordinances.
Among the state bills causing concern currently are ones related to matters such as financial disclosures for local officials, land-development process and, mostly for the beach communities, regulations on short-term rentals.
The Seminole contingent used their visit to the capitol on April 2-5 to meet with state officials, careful to avoid mentioning “home rule” per se — it’s become something of a dirty word in Tallahassee — and seeking what council member Thom Barnhorn called “common ground” with legislators.
Those seen as key lobbying targets are members of the area’s elected delegation, such as Sen. Nick DiCeglie, a Republican from Indian Rocks Beach, Rep. Berny Jacques, a Republican from Seminole, and Rep. Lindsay Cross, a Democrat from St. Petersburg.
First the good news for local officials: City Manager Ann Toney-Deal said a pair of bills to rein in the process for building-permit applications and legislation to restrict how local governments handle solid-waste management “appear to be dead.”
But she hastened to add the bills are better described as moribund than dead.
“Nothing’s dead,” Toney-Deal said. “The legislature is still in session.”
The most worrying live-and-kicking legislation? A pair of bills requiring local elected officials and municipal administrators to file more in-depth financial disclosures of the sort state legislators must file. The fear among local officials is that talented but disclosure-shy prospective candidates for public office will be scared off from running.
Senate Bill 774, covering just such financial disclosures, already has passed and accompanying House Bill 37 is expected soon to get a vote.
Council member Trish Springer, the city’s representative to the Suncoast League of Cities, gave a slide presentation on the multiday lobbying effort, part of an annual pilgrimage to Tallahassee by local officials statewide.
Vice Mayor Roger Edelman said it was a logistical challenge to navigate the security-heavy capitol campus efficiently at times, but he said it ultimately proved to be “an interesting experience.”
Said Mayor Leslie Waters, a former state representative not in this year’s lobbying group: “We’re building relationships with our legislators. So when (bills) come through and they don’t know what to do, they will call.”
Fiscal housekeeping, nonprofit grants
Finalizing some financial housekeeping begun last month, council members at the meeting voted unanimously on second reading to add about $3 million to the city’s fiscal 2023 budget to cover a variety of infrastructure repairs and upgrades. That raises the city’s total projected outlay through next September by 11%, to almost $29.4 million.
But the hefty increase is less than meets the eye, as it’s in keeping with an annual process in which the city carries over the previous year’s surplus revenue in various forms, and the action won’t affect the city tax rate.
Council members also voted 7-0 to approve an amendment confirming reductions in the maximum employee contribution to the Seminole Firefighters Municipal Pension Fund, first from a current 12% to a rate of 11% on Oct. 1 and then to just 10% on Oct. 1, 2024. The reductions were negotiated in the city firefighters’ most recent collective bargaining agreement, approved by the council in May.
And in the latest in a series of grant presentations to area nonprofits, the council gave $1,000 to the local SPCA chapter and $500 to 211 Tampa Bay Cares, which operates a toll-free hotline connecting those in need with mental health services and basic-needs charities and programs. The organization also staffs the 988 suicide-prevention hotline locally.
The council next will meet on Tuesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. in its City Hall chambers.